Austin (left) and his cousin Jamon
This time, it wasn’t a tweet in the middle of the night about a former Miss Universe. Instead, it was a 3:30 a.m. Facebook post from my daughter Carmen: “Austin just woke up. He’s crying. I’m crying. Eek this is tough to explain.” Austin is my 10-year-old grandson. Like many of us, he was feeling the aftershocks of our new reality: President-elect Donald Trump.
Austin is a fifth grader in Cobb County, a mostly conservative Atlanta suburb. His school is predominantly white, but thankfully, he hasn’t experienced the sting of overt discrimination. I pray he never will. His post-election tears, and the tears and fears of other young people are real. His concerns are for some of his Hispanic classmates. He’d heard Trump promise to deport people who are here illegally. Already, in schools across the country, Hispanic and Muslim children have been the target of bullying because of Trump’s campaign rhetoric. After Trump’s win, Austin worried that his classmates who supported the president-elect would tease those students who wanted Hillary Clinton to win.
We were driving home from skating on Election Day when he told me that some of his classmates wanted Trump to win because he is a millionaire. That doesn’t mean he’s a good person, I offered. “My friends say Hillary Clinton had an affair.” No Austin, it was her husband who had the affair. “Well why did she stay married to him? ” Whew, this wasn’t a conversation I was prepared to have. But as parents and grandparents, we must always be ready to listen, explain and sometimes correct errors of fact.
The political and religious views of children are shaped largely by their parents. Austin’s classmates were parroting what they’d heard in their homes. Politics are often discussed in our home so Austin is very aware of how nasty this election cycle had become. He said early on that he didn’t like Trump because he was a bully.
This week, as I’ve listened to parents and teachers talk about the election’s effect on our children, I can’t help but feel sad. Our leaders are often role models for our children. Say what you will about President Obama’s policies, he has been an outstanding example for our children. He loves and respects his wife and daughters and has shown an unwavering commitment to education and mentoring.
Now comes President-elect Trump, who built his campaign on a lie about President Obama’s citizenship and has continued to sow seeds of racism and sexism. He has ridiculed women and disabled people, threatened to ban Muslims and created a culture of fear and anger.
My friend Charis, a teacher in suburban Washington, D.C. posted this on her Facebook page Wednesday.
Today was a hard day to be a teacher. In my literary magazine class I asked students to journal their feelings about America, the Election, and the president-elect. While there were definite varying opinions, so many of their responses hurt me to the core. This one came from the sweetest little girl, who also happens to be a Muslim and who proudly wears her hijab. Her last sentence moved me the most. #kindnessmatters
“I am really scared,” the student wrote. “America should have a better and kinder leader.”
As we endeavor to put this election behind us, let’s remember our children and listen to their fears and concerns for our country’s future. They are wiser than we know. And they soak in everything they see and hear.